– Photos by Harry Kane and Claudia Ferro
By Harry Kane
It was a hot day on Sept. 15 and the good weather brought out the crowds to the fourth annual 2013 Somerville Dog Festival. The event was packed with the gamut of dogs wagging their tails, barking, sniffing, and doing doggie things.
White tents lined the perimeter of the field, set-up by companies who had come to feature their dog-related products. A “try-it” training ring and obstacle course, outfitted with canine sports contraptions, was sectioned off in the rear. The demo ring, on the opposite side of the field, featured various events. And then there was a contest on stage for the best dog/owner look-a-like combo.
Dot Baisly, a behavior and enrichment coordinator of the SPCA from Westchester, was visiting Somerville for the weekend to help out at the festival. Baisly stood at the entrance to the “try-it” training course, greeting the patrons and their four-legged friends.
“All you gotta do is let her be a dog,” she said to the Somerville resident with a gleam in her eye. Baisly greets the dogs by saying, “Hi, you want to try nose work?”
Nose work is home scent detection. A treat is placed in a box, and the dog must find it. Eventually, the idea is to train the dog so it can find the scent, rather than the food.
A myriad of training courses were offered, including a rally obedience course teaching the dogs sitting, turning, jumping and healing. Each dog sport becomes increasingly more difficult as the dogs advance to next station.
The agility section of the training included an obstacle course. “They have to go through the tunnel, over the jumps, through the tire,” Baisly said.
Marjie Alonso, along with Dr. Adam Parker and Paul Luppino, started the Somerville Foundation for Animals, which hosts the festival, some five years ago in order to raise funds and awareness for people about healthy, happy pet ownership.
Alonso is concerned that city dogs living in close quarters don’t get the same sort of play and structure that they need. The yearly dog festival helps to introduce some of these missing dog management skills. “The dogs that we are bringing into these cities really never have an outlet for their dogginess,” she said. “This gives them something to do: Frisbee, search and rescue, agility…”
“The try-it ring has really been a great way to introduce people to healthy activities they can do with their dogs in the city,” Alonso said. “We also have really good vendors that sort of show people different things they can do – it’s not just the same chain store where you get the same nylon collars or the same equipment – we’ve got really good vendors who have enriching items to get.”
This year, ‘Treibball’ was added to the list of events demonstrated for the public. It is essentially herding for city dogs. Herding promotes teamwork, builds confidence and allows the dog to use their problem solving abilities. In the demonstration a 4-year old border collie named Blake herded a large yoga ball into an imaginary net.
The inclusive dog day afternoon even included a stage production of Little Red Riding Hood with “doggie” actors.
William Leong, a Somerville resident, was walking Yoshi, a Shiba Inu, and enjoying the afternoon festivities. Inu is dog in Japanese and Shibu means brush, Leong explained. Yoshi’s grandfather was a grand champion at Westminster, says Leong.
Leong belongs to a monthly Shiba Inu dog group, where Yoshi gets to socialize with his own breed. But, Leong says, besides the occasional interaction with neighbors’ dogs, Yoshi doesn’t come into contact much with other breeds. “I heard about this [festival] and I thought it was a great opportunity for him to see all the different types of dogs,” he said.
Yoshi even has his own Facebook page and during the festival, with a little help from Leong, posted a picture of himself in the arms of a police officer, and writing, “Officer Tam, you cannot get me in a half-nelson. I trained the K-9 Unit when you were still in diapers!” Yoshi’s joke was aimed at Officer John Tam, who is the Somerville Police Officer in charge of the K-9 unit. Officer Tam was at the dog festival performing a demo with Max, the German shepherd.
Massachusetts Vest-A-Dog, a 13-year-old non-profit, which works on behalf of Massachusetts Police dogs, was one of the many organizations present at the festival. “Max, through the Somerville dog festival three years ago, got his bullet proof vest through the proceeds from the event,” said Kathy Hinds, president of Vest-A-Dog. Proceeds from last year’s festival provided three first aid kits, one for Max and two more for other K-9 cops.
Some of the other vendors at the 2013 Somerville Dog Festival included Zen Animal Massage, Bare Naked Dog Bakery and RiverDog.